In a much-anticipated decision earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements on large employers through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). In the first of many legal challenges to vaccination requirements, the high court essentially ruled that OSHA did not have the regulatory authority to impose vaccine requirements on workers nationwide. The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) would have required that private employers with more than 100 employees impose mandatory vaccination and testing protocols.
Specifically, a majority of the Court found that the plenary authority of OSHA to regulate workplace safety does not extend as far as mandating that all workers in the United States obtain vaccinations.
In California, this decision may not have much impact on the workplace. Much of the Court’s legal decision rested on procedural and administrative issues of Federalism—State v. Federal powers. While the federal government may not be able to mandate vaccinations in the workplace, the Court did not address what powers the individual states have to regulate workplace safety through the 10th Amendment.
California has been a leader in pushing vaccination restrictions across a broad spectrum of activities from schools and public venues to the workplace. In October, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring all K-12 students to be vaccinated following FDA approval for their age group. It is anticipated that most California students will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 2022, ahead of the fall school year.
Cal OSHA has already implemented robust COVID-19 workplace safety requirements and those requirements continue to evolve. In late January, legislative leaders also announced the formation of a COVID-19 working group to further study and propose vaccination requirements, including those in the workplace. The goal of the working group is to have any proposed vaccination requirements in place before the summer legislative recess. Any approved vaccination requirements would likely to face similar legal challenges at the State level.